With some regularity a young activist will come to me and ask
“What issue should i work on? There are so many important ones to choose from.”
Indeed there are. And some years back i would have found this question quite vexing. Clearly one should do some kind of analysis. Looking at the current state of political affairs, weighing all different possible effects of the various campaigning efforts, examining where the opportunities were, comparing your own skill set to what the various movements need.
Now i think differently. “Ignore the issues, look for the people who inspire you. Look for the group you want to be with and do what they do.” Issues matter, but it turns out that what inspires prospective activists matters more.
In a few hours we will start the communities conference. There has been tremendous work at the site, expanding and improving the kitchen facilities, fixing bridges, putting up domes all over the place. The place really looks great.
But it is not because of the physical plant upgrade, or even the killer program for this event that you should change your weekend plans. It’s because of the people coming. The colorful gang from the Baltimore Free Farm will be attending. Representatives from Ganas and Catalyst Communities in NYC will be here. Most of the income sharing egalitarian communities are sending ambassadors (East Wind, The Midden, Living Energy Farm, Sandhill Farm, Acorn and Sapling). Workshops will be done by folks from Red Earth Farms and Heathcote and The Farm and Dancing Rabbit.
Beyond existing communities there are compelling presenters coming from all manner of groups including Network for a New Culture, Hack RVA (the Richmond Maker Space), Charlottesville Time Bank, Health Care for All and Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).
If you need to be inspired, this group will do it. If you are trying to start a community, useful answers found here. If your idea is going to change the world, you should be presenting at the Open Space on Sunday.
Post Script: The Communities Conference Dance on Saturday night is reliably one of the best dances at Twin Oaks over the course of the year.
In 1990 i was going to go to India. Ultimately, i never made it because upset natives were blowing up tourist attractions and i thought it best to go to Thailand instead. To get into India i needed to get a visa and the closest location was the Indian consulate in San Francisco.
A large effervescent Indian man behind me on line was chatting me up”
He: Is this your first trip to India?
Me: Why, yes.
He: You will love it
Me: Oh good
He: Or you will hate it
Me: Excuse me?
He: Or you will love it and hate it, no one is ambivalent about India
So it is with Facebook and me. If have written regularly and critically about Facebook (poor performance in addressing violence against women, spreading like cancer, etc). Facebook has an addictive feel to it, many people who use it complain about their relationship with the service. There is no effective competition much as Google Plus tried. It is filled with ads and hidden algorithms for how you get stuff and manipulative practices which should make us worry.
And i use it everyday and as much as i hate it, i also love it. A huge number of the people i want to communicate with are on it. It is easy to set up events and get useful RSVP data (tho not highly accurate, still useful). it allows you to remind yourself what someone looks like and who you know that they know. It permits a certain kind of acceptable stalking, which is both useful and a little creepy. it is also a tremendous gossip engine, arguably the single largest one in the world.
As an organizer, one of the thing you really hope for is that the RSVP function on FB will give you some notion as to the number of people who are coming to the event you have posted there. Keep hoping. I’ve been involved in several dozen events which have been posted on Facebook and some have more RSVPs than actually come, others the RSVPs on FB don’t come close to the actual number of attendees.
The reason for all these thoughts and stories is that some fraction of the people who read this blog are going to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference, which is starting this Friday. Of the 59 people currently RSVPing on FB only 9 of them are known Oakers or Acorners. But there are probably 100 more outside participants who will come to this event.
If you are one of them, please go to the Facebook Event Page and RSVP or (even better) go to the Comm Conf registration. This will help the organizers figure out who might really be coming, even if they have not yet registered.
Decision models and the culture that surrounds them are central to a healthy and functioning community. When Twin Oaks was founded in 1967, it was before the widespread use of the consensus decision technique which is now used by many different communities as diverse as co-housing, the Occupy Movement and the daughter community that Twin Oaks spawned, Acorn.
Some of the most difficult decisions communities have to make are around membership. There is not much room for compromises here. With many things communities decide on, there are ways to start gradually, invest minimally at first, or stage implementation. This does not work with membership. We are either accepting this person (possibly with some type of feedback) or we are rejecting them.
Different communities have different effective control points for membership decisions. At Twin Oaks, if you are accepted as a visitor (to become a provisional member), almost always 6 (or 9) months later you will become a full member, which is like having tenure. At Acorn, it is somewhat easier to become a provisional member, but the jump to becoming a full member (because the community uses consensus) is much harder. Any single dissenting voice can block full membership, and with some regularity, it does.
Because it is innovative and slightly controversial, i wanted to describe the Twin Oaks full membership override mechanism. This is a modified voting model. At the end of a member’s provisional period (which is usually 6 months), the community is polled about the provisional member becoming a full member. There are 5 options:
- ACCEPT WITH FEEDBACK (a contract is not a possible outcome of the feedback)
- EXTEND (which requires a Feedback, possible contract and a second poll at the end of a three-month extension)
So what usually happens is that the total of type 2 thru 5 votes is less than 10% of the full membership (this would currently be about 8 people), the provisional member becomes a full member, and these concerns are simply ignored. There are all manner of special cases between 10% and 15% for which you can look at the full policy. But what i want to focus on is what happens when more than 15% of the community decides they want to reject a provisional member. This has only happened four times in my 16 years at Twin Oaks.
The starting place is that the provisional member is rejected and the membership team gives them between 3 and 30 days to leave the community. But it is occasionally the case that, while more than 15% of the membership wants to reject someone, there is a larger fraction of the community that wants them to stay. In this case, it is likely that someone will post an override. Unlike most overrides, which only require 50% of the full members, membership overrides require at least 60%
In addition, for every person over 15% who votes reject, another person has to sign the override. Policy sez:
For example, if 11 REJECT votes equals 15% and 44 override signatures equal 60%, then if twelve members vote to REJECT, 45 signatures are required to override; if 13 members vote to REJECT, then 46 signatures are required to override, and so on.
The thinking here is interesting. For the majority to be able to override the minority, they have to get an increasing fraction of the super majority. Since we are not operating by consensus (which would require us to all agree on every new member) and overturning the decision of the 15% who rejected is something of a big deal, this is our best guess as to how to make it fair.
And of course this is somewhat arbitrary, we are making up with fairness and justice look like in this eco-village we have designed. It also means that there is a level of community rejection at which the decision can not be overridden by the majority (something like 27% rejects), without some of the original rejectors changing their minds.
One of the most valuable and toughest parts of community living is deciding what type of culture we want to have. This includes how we want to empower significant minorities to block a candidate from membership. Equally importantly we are calculating how big a super majority must be to reverse these minorities, if possible. While all the time reminding ourselves that we are just guessing at what is just and fair.
The fine folks at DDP have created an excellent comprehensive piece on Ferguson events and how you can participate in the movement against police oppression in the US. Strongly suggested reading
Originally posted on Disrupting Dinner Parties:
If you’ve looked at a computer or television screen in the last week, you’ve probably heard something about Ferguson, MO and a boy named Michael Brown. Perhaps you’ve heard a lot of conflicting stories. Let’s gets some facts straight.
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GPaul has just returned from his summer adventure in Europe visiting urban income sharing communities. He just gave a wonderful report contrasting the US communes with their European counterparts. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:
* There are perhaps 40 or 50 secular income sharing communities in Europe and national and language boundaries largely keep them from networking together or even knowing about each other
* These communities of size 60 to 80 members (and of course much smaller) use consensus decision making without any problem. [Many small US communities, including Acorn, worry that they can not grow without consensus failing them, and almost all of them are far smaller than this].
* One of the maxims suggested was “The commune is rich, the communards are poor” The objective is great shared wealth, not increased personal/private wealth.
* None of the 6 income sharing communities visited had a labor quota (though one had a non-specific requirement for members to work full time). Most FEC communities have labor obligations and several have quota – though in Acorns case it is a “soft” and untracked quota.
* European urban income sharing communities are also both asset and debt sharing (unlike their US counterparts). The US based income sharing communities (most of them in the FEC network) were culturally founded during the rise of cults. Thus part of the desire to not be asset sharing at that time was to distinguish income sharing communities from cults (which took members assets).
* Very few people move to communes in there 20s (unlike in the US where this is our biggest demographic) instead they move in during their 30s when they want to settle down and have kids.
* Minimum stays at European communes tend to be much longer (on the order of 5 years) in sharp contrast to US communities where it is often just 12 or 18 months.
This is sort of a poor representation of some of the key ideas of GPaul’s presentation, but there is more i will elaborate on in future blog posts. Especially the transnational nomadic anarchist cyberpunks.
It is just a couple of weeks before the communities conference and we are putting the finishing touches on it. I believe this will be the best Communities Conference of the 10 I have helped organize. Some amazing presenters, many interesting participants and robust and relevant content. We have a number of options for the Monday program with is Communities Clinic. If you are planning on attending the Monday program on Sept 1st, we are hoping you’ll write us and give us an idea of what kind of issues your group is dealing with and what kind of help you’re looking for. There are 10 common topics described below with various questions to help you think about what might be useful to you.
Financing and development: Almost every community needs money. How can you secure funding for improving your community? What type of fundraising options have worked for other communities and are they exportable to you? Under what conditions can you borrow money from banks or run a successful crowd funding campaign?
Ownernship and legal structures: Well before you move in, you will need to figure out what type of community you are in a legal sense. Is it a land trust, a residential worker coop, a 501D community, LLC or other structure. Come discuss what these all mean and which models would work best for you and your forming group.
Recruiting and outreach: If you have the right members, you can do almost anything. But how do you find these people (if they are not already working with you)? Many communities reach other through FIC websites and publications, others write articles in periodicals which appeal to their value sets, some buy advertisements, others speak at colleges or festivals, still others blog or recruit thru social media. What is the right mix for the people you are trying to find? What is cost effective or no cost? What places should you avoid?
Relationships and conflict resolution (problematic people and expulsion): Many European communities have no expulsion process, almost all US ones do. How do you maintain personal and emotional relationships with your membership? What do you do when relationships inside the community sour to the point where it might be necessary for the group to split or someone to leave? What have long lived communities done to successfully deal with problematic or high negative impact members?
Decision-making: The US cohousing movement has widely adopted consensus (including sociocracy models) as the way they make decisions. Some communities use voting models including super majority models. Do you have what it takes to be a charismatic leader for your community (hint this includes tremendous patience and a willingness to listen)? Does your decision model change as your group gets larger? If you can’t agree to change something are you always stuck with the status quo? These and other questions will be addressed in this participant driven workshop.
Local relations/involvement: Does it matter if you shop in the town closest to your community? Does it make sense to invite the neighbors over for tea or will it just leave them more scared than they already are? What about political protest in your own town – will this distance you from your neighbors or bring you closer? Should members doing controversial things try to avoid the community being affiliated with their work to maintain local harmony? Is it considered community work to be part of the local volunteer fire department or volunteering to teach kids to read?
Cottage industries/Cooperative business: We have started calling them “income engines”. Choosing the right business is one of the most important decisions a community can make. If you rely too much on the skills of a minority of the membership (for example web development) the community economy can collapse if these people move on. Should you be looking for something that any new member can be trained in? Is the cottage industry open to all prospective members? Can the community hire people who are not members?
The range of membership statuses: Full member, provisional member, associate member, child member, intern, guest, ward of the state, lover of member – there are many different ways someone can be at a community for a while. Especially egalitarian communities try to limit the number of membership types to try to preserve fairness. Other communities have more flexible membership policies to try to be more inclusive or more versatile for members. In this workshop we’ll discuss how all these status’ have been used and which ones might be right for your community.
Different levels of sharing: Many student coops share a few meals a week, a clothes washer, and not much else. Their academic, economic and social experiences are largely independent. Some communities try to share everything from bank accounts to businesses to boyfriends. The more you share the more benefits you’ll see but the stronger your systems and communication needs to be. This workshop will look at some of these systems and how they combat internal hording and envy. It will also help forming communities decide what they want to share – are cars too big? are clothes to personal? Can we swing a public computer? Do we want to buy box seats for the games?
Culture Creation: Communities can create their own holidays and rituals. Often these cultural aspects are the most bonding aspect of the community members life. Should we buy instruments to help catalyze a more musical community? Should our parties be mostly us and our close friends or should we invite a wider audience? How does the community value and promote artistic expression? Do we strive for transparency in our feelings or privacy? There are dozens of aspects of cultural creation that communities can consider and often influence. What you choose to focus on will determine how most people perceive you and in many cases whether you will grow and thrive.
What do we make of it when one of the worlds largest banks tells us nuclear is not a viable alternative to either renewable energy or natural gas? Where solar is at parity with fossil fuels on the western half of the US.
Originally posted on GreenWorld:
Those hippies at Citigroup are at it again. In late March, they published a study asserting that 2014 was ushering in the “Age of Renewables” in the U.S. According to that study, electricity costs are being set primarily by the cost of natural gas and Citigroup’s analysis predicts that gas will become somewhat more expensive while renewables already are at or near a competitive level with gas.
The report notes that nuclear and coal are structurally disadvantaged because both technologies are viewed as uncompetitive on cost. Environmental regulations are making coal even pricier, and the aging nuclear fleet in the U.S. is facing plant shutdowns due to the challenging economics.
“We predict that solar, wind, and biomass continue to gain market share from coal and nuclear into the…
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